James Cantlie and Sun Yatsen

Talk to people about the Chinese revolution and they immediately think of Mao, but Sun Yatsen was a more important figure, he did the spadework for modern China and worked at great risk to himself for the overthrow of the Qing.

Sun was a true internationalist, he lived in Japan and England and Hong Kong and had contact with intellectuals and revolutionaries all over the world. A couple of years ago I attended a lecture given by his great grandson in Beijing. He produced a book that Sun had written outlining plans for the development of modern China, including where the main rail lines should be, the most useful areas of the coast for building industrial ports and many other details. He told us that Deng Xiaoping’s ideas were closely based on the outlines that Sun had laid down. Sun was a lot more than a rabble-rouser.

I got interested in Sun when I was making a TV play about Chinese boys working in tin mines in Malaysia (下南洋). We were staying in Cui Heng, the place of Sun’s birth, and my hotel was right across the road from the Sun Yatsen museum. It rained a lot, and every day when I had no scenes I went over the road and browsed the museum. It was there, in the photographs lining the walls, that I first discovered Song Qingling (宋庆龄).

In 2011 I took a small part in a TV play commemorating the original 2011 Xinhai Revolution. I played James Cantlie, a medic and teacher who had been one of Sun’s first teachers when he was studying medicine in Hong Kong. Later when Sun was in England working in the British Museum he was kidnapped by the Qing and imprisoned in the Chinese embassy in London. Cantlie waged a press campaign and obtained Sun’s release. If he had been sent back to China the Qing would have tortured him to death.